Wednesday, December 24, 2014

FAN GUEST POST: Aaron Graham's Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014

Each December, we here at TV STORE ONLINE have fans of our blog write guest posts about their favorite movies or whatever is on their mind.  In this first installment, podcaster Aaron Graham shares his favorite "movie discoveries" of 2014.

 Aaron W. Graham has an extensive background in freelance film writing.  A partial list of his interview subjects include Terry Gilliam, John Landis, James Gray, Richard Franklin, Charles B. Griffith, Stuart Gordon and Richard Linklater. Graham was also selected to the Berlinale Talent Campus at the 2009 Berlin International Film Festival. In addition, he is also a full member of the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC) and was elected to serve on the DGC Manitoba's district council. His favorite filmmaker is John Ford. Follow Aaron at Twitter.

In alphabetical order, the best films I’ve seen for the first time in 2014.

AND HOPE TO DIE (Rene Clement, 1972)

BREEZY (Clint Eastwood, 1973)

CHARLIE BUBBLES (Albert Finney, 1967)

THE HARD WAY (Michael Dryhurst, 1979)


MILIUS (Joey Figueroa, Zak Knudson, 2013)
Finally, a capsule of arguably the greatest screenwriter of all time – Big John Milius. I’ve heard all of the legendary stories. I’ve seen all the photos. But it’s a wonderful thing to have them all in one succinct place, and preferably set to the scores of Basil Poledouris.

A MOST WANTED MAN (Anton Corbijn, 2014)

PING PONG SUMMER (Michael Tully, 2014)

RIVER OF FUNDAMENT (Matthew Barney, 2014)

THE RUBBER GUN (Allan Moyle, 1977)

TEN DAYS WONDER / La Décade prodigieuse (Claude Chabrol, 1971)

“The tone is mellow, tender, almost serene, qualified by a sense of desolation.”

Robin Wood and Michael Walker’s comprehensive study of Chabrol couldn’t encompass La décade prodigieuse, the work to emerge directly after the expanse of their exemplary book, but the above line that sums up Chabrol going into the 1970s certainly applies to this hypnotically lyrical adaptation of an Ellery Queen novel that removes the Ellery Queen detective from the narrative. Chabrol spent ten years attempting to mount a production, only to be set back time and time again by Orson Welles proving unable to commit to the twisted patriarch role — an example of one auteur setting back another’s productivity. Still, it’s imperative Chabrol waited, as Welles – patently false nose and all – is the majestic fatherly figure looming large over Anthony Perkins, this film’s psycho; and to Chabrol, the filmmaker.

Perkins attempts to work through his mental peccadilloes with the aid of psychologist Michel Piccoli, inviting Piccoli to his palatial family estate overseen by the God-like Welles and youthful stepmother Marlène Jobert. There, Perkins turns almost somnambulistic as he begins to ritualistically reenact a convoluted form of the Ten Commandments, not to mention a taboo affair through the prism of Adam & Eve as he vies for the affection of Jobert. Welles – as Theo – lords over all; Piccoli plays the game, attempting to sort out all of the madness.

Despite the overt religious symbolism and considerable Hitchcock/Welles framings, Chabrol foregoes some of their influence in deference to Charles Laughton, that one-film artist, and his NIGHT OF THE HUNTER — especially in its captivating soundtrack being slightly reminiscent of Walter Schumann’s score from the 1955 film. I’m thinking of the haunted sing-song voices as the camera swirls down from Perkins’ third-floor window to contemplate Jobart and Welles in the garden.

It’s easy to see Chabrol growing bored of the rote detective character and why he removed Ellery Queen by name, since Piccoli’s part is to observe and react and — most crucially — solve the mystery “incorrectly”, damning the mixed-up Perkins.

Inducing suicide through his final analysis, Piccoli leaves Welles with the assurance “There is no room for Gods like you among men.” Piccoli exits the room, moves across the courtyard and out of the estate, as three lights flicker on upstairs. It’s understood Welles has joined his schizophrenic family unit in the afterlife. And that’s when another line by Wood/Walker becomes apt: “The savage derider of the bourgeoisie has become its elegiac poet.”

WILLOW CREEK (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2013)

And the most important film re-seen in 2014:

MARNIE (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964)

The common theory (at least amongst non-Hitchcockians) is that Hitchcock supposedly “lost it” following THE BIRDS and would never regain his prior masterful footing, but to me, there's nothing but a rich pageantry stretching from MARNIE to FAMILY PLOT, and all of the minor television excursions in-between.

MARNIE is his last with many collaborators, some parting amicably (DP Robert Burks died in 1968), some less so (‘Tippi' Hedren, Bernard Herrmann). The film is crisply photographed, backdrops deliberately artificial, and the story is as densely psychological as it is luridly suggestive.

From minute one, Sean Connery’s Mark transfers his university studies of animal behavior to his figure of desire, pinning Hedren’s thief Marnie like a butterfly inside a display case; she wriggles and protests, but remains frozen with fear when subjected to the implied rape, perhaps due to the traumatic catastrophes embedded in her psyche since childhood. What can be constituted as problematic is the fact that by the last reel Mark will arguably change from tormentor to saviour, the catalyst in spurring the frigid Marnie to confront the meaning of the red flashes and simultaneously rectifying her inability to have intercourse.

We’re asked to accept this just as much as the placid Marnie does, being ushered out of her mother’s brownstone at film’s end by a debonair James Bond, either on a road to recovery or even further emotional ruin. Hitchcock doesn’t neatly tie this up (despite what that Bruce Dern flashback may suggest), and MARNIE is a significantly richer work for it, responsive to countless viewings, and unquestionably Tippi Hedren’s finest hour.